Friday, 30 November 2012

December songs.

December is a months of songs, carols and hymns in New Zealand. Christmas in New Zealand is about sunny days on beaches, cooking on a BBQ with lamb, new potatoes, fresh garden picked vegetables, salads with brief matches of cricket, or even a game of rugby in between courses. Usually copious quantity of refreshments are at hand. The song posted above on You Tube"It's Christmas Time in NZ gives a flavor of the month of December, our songs and Christmas outdoors. I have celebrated many NZ Christmases on mountain tops, kayaking down rivers or bush walking  On Christmas Day 1971 I climbed Aoraki Mount Cook for the 2nd time on that special day. I first climbed it on Christmas Day 1968 with Jim Cowie, Keith McIvor and Rod McLeod., and what a wonderful feeling being on top of New Zealand on a day of celebration. Below is Chris Timms, NZ sailing Olympic gold medalist on the East Ridge of Mt. Cook on 25 December 1971. We still had cans of beer in our pack having celebrated Christmas eve in Plateau Hut a few hours earlier.

While I enjoy the array and variety of Christmas type songs that are available on line, I was thrilled to see for the first time in nearly 30 years, Thin Lizzy will release new music. Guitarist Scott Gorham says the group is working on new songs with an eye on a new album, the first without founder and original vocalist Phil Lynott, who died in 1986.Fans at the band’s Dec. 13 show in Dublin will be the first to hear the new material, Gorham tells Guitarist Damon Johnson added that the band is hopeful the new album will be ready to release early in 2013

 I have many CD of Christmas or December songs. One of my favourites was released in 2004 called, ‘Songs of December:’ The Familiar Classics CD music contains a single disc with 10 songs. Away In a Manger * 3:02 First Noel * 4:03 Angels We Have Heard On High * 2:43 Silent Night * 6:00 December Sunset O Come Emmanuel * 3:00 What Child Is This * 3:49 O Come All Ye Faithfull Hailee'S Moment First Noel (Reprise)

 Another favourite of mine is Te Harinui is a Maori song about Christmas recalling the time when the Rev Samuel Marsden first preached the Gospel at the Bay of Islands on Christmas Day 1814

1. Not on a snowy night
 By star or candlelight
 Nor by an angel band
 There came to our dear land
Te Harinui Te Harinui
 Te Hari-nu-i Glad tid-ings of great joy

2. But on a summer day
 Within a quiet bay
 The Maori people heard
 The great and glorious word

3. The people gathered round
 Upon the grassy ground
 And heard the preacher say
 I bring to you this day

4. Now in this blessed land
 United heart and hand
 We praise the glorious birth
 And sing to all the earth

Many of our great singers from Inia Te Wiata, Kiri Te Kanawa, Sir Howard Morrison and Hayley Westrena
Here she is sing delightful Christmas songs.

While I enjoy the array and variety of Christmas type songs that are available on line, I was thrilled to see  for the first time in nearly 30 years, Thin Lizzy will release new music. Guitarist Scott Gorham says the group is working on new songs with an eye on a new album, the first without founder and original vocalist Phil Lynott, who died in 1986.Fans at the band’s Dec. 13 show in Dublin will be the first to hear the new material, Gorham Guitarist Damon Johnson added that the band is hopeful the new album will be ready to release early in 2013


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice.

To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... "cruising" it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.
"I've always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.
What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.
The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.
Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?
- Sterling Hayden (Wanderer, 1973)

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Keith Murdoch mystery. Remember that day NZ vs Wales in Cardiff 1972?

Keith Murdoch (left) was my hero when I was a teenager. I was 17 years old and he must have been 23 when I got the chance to play with him. I must of played about five games with him that season, 1966.

He had represented Otago as a 20-year-old prop in 1964, then had a season with Ponsonby and one with Marist in Napier before returning to Dunedin. That was when I played with him. He was somewhat unfit and so he decided to start the season off playing for Zingari Richmond in the Dunedin second grade competition.

I remember that cold Otago winter of 1966, when we played on a frost covered ground against Eastern at Waikouwai-iti. I was a wing three quarter and my job was to throw the ball in at line out time. There was something unsettling about throwing it to Murdoch, a hulk of a man who physical presence was magnetic. The first time I threw the ball in, it was crooked. Murdoch glared at me. The second time I threw it in off centre. Murdoch grabbed me by the shirt and said, “Next time throw the fuckin’ ball in straight.” The threatening look in his deep eyes convinced me to improve instantaneously, I improved and never threw the ball in crooked again to Keith Murdoch. I was 17 and not fully physically developed, and a couple of the opposition forwards picked on me and roughed me up. Murdoch must have seen it and said, “next time someone hits you, give me his number.”

A few minutes later, a prop with No. 14 on his back, punched me in a tackle. I looked at Keith Murdoch, and said " No. 14.” A few minutes later No. 14 was on the ground, half conscious, and cowering. No one picked on me for the remainder of the game. I had found a grumpy Godfather.

We had a great after match function, and after consuming huge quantifies of beer, Keith offered to drive me home in his olive green Mini Minor. Imagine a 130 kg hulk of muscle getting into a small mini. About 30 mins later, he didn't quite make a corner somewhere south of Cherry Farm and the car slid off the road into a grassy ditch. I offered to help Keith manhandle the car back onto the road. He glared at me with disdain. "Leave it alone boy" he said, "I'll do it myself." With that said, Murdoch lifted, bounced, wrenched and slid the mini up the side of a a 3 metre ditch, skewed it onto the road, straightened the car up like a city slicker straightening his tie, and wiped his hand on the back of his tight shorts.

The famous Peter Bush photographs of Keith Murdoch leaving his hotel in Cardiff

We stopped at the Ravensborne pub for a few more jugs and Murdoch gave me a man-to-boy talk about how to play rugby.

A schoolmate, Nev Cleveland, told me recently he was a neighbour to the Murdoch family in Ravensbourne. Nev was the milk boy and remembers delivering 12 pints of milk to Keith's home daily. He told me that one Sunday morning about 7 am, he met Keith 'as pissed as a fart' crawling home on hands and knees. We both recalled Keith's older brother Bruce, a bricklayer, who was also a fine rugby player.

I also have pleasant memories of drinking after games we played at Montecillo, and walking through the southern cemetery, or drivinng to the closet pub at the southern end of the Oval. Wyndam Barkman, Frosty are some of the other players who come to mind. Murdoch was generally kind and protective of his friends and a pleasure to drink with. He choose his words carefully and added colour and zest to conversations. I am happy he is living a peaceful life in outback Australia.

Murdoch was often the subject of rugby talk, some of it about his not inconsiderable rugby ability, much of it about his behaviour.

A favourite story was of Keith Murdoch towing a car up a Dunedin hill, clasping the tow rope in his teeth! I could believe it !

 He also mentioned to me that he liked being alone and enjoyed his own company. Murdoch went on to live a large part of his life alone. It is a mysterious story.

Murdoch toured Wales in 1972 and achieved notoriety after scoring the opening try of the first Test.

Following the match he argued with the tour manager, assaulted a security guard at the tourist's hotel and was promptly dispatched on the first plane home.

Well known writer David Haviland writes in his blog posting "In 1979, Murdoch paid a brief visit to New Zealand, and was seen saving the life of a drowning toddler, by giving the child mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for four minutes."

He never reached Auckland and instead made the Australian outback his home where he lived in relative obscurity until the discovery of Kumanjai Limerick's body last October. Then the mystery man hit the media in 2001.

Left, a rare photo of Keith Murdoch in Australia in 2001

BBC - 24 June 2001

According to the Times newspaper, Keith Murdoch, the former All Black forward who was sent home early from the 1972-3 tour of the British Isles, is wanted for questioning over the murder of an Aboriginal man in the remote Northern Territory.

The Dunedin-born Murdoch, already a controversial and mysterious figure, was dismissed from the All Black tour for attacking a security guard in Cardiff.

Instead of returning to New Zealand, he disembarked in Singapore and travelled to Darwin under an assumed name, before losing himself in the outback.

One New Zealand journalist who traced Murdoch to a logging camp in the 1970s was allegedly threatened and left in haste.

Murdoch was not heard of again until an inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Limerick was held on 15 June. It was adjourned until next month.

'No stopping'

The outback community where Murdoch has lived for 10 years is the remote copper-mining town of Tennant Creek.

It is little more than a dot on the 1,900-mile Stuart Highway through central Australia. The Lonely Planet Guide advises travellers not to go there.

So complete has been Murdoch's disappearance that police trying to trace him have had to issue photographs from the 1970s.

Locals, however, say he is now a grey-haired 57-year-old, still with a massive physique and by all accounts feared by the Aboriginal community in a place of simmering racial tensions.

Murdoch, who was known as a loner, played one Test apiece against South Africa, Australia and Wales.


The Northern Territory coroner heard evidence that Limerick, a 20-year-old alcoholic, broke into Murdoch's house on 6 October last year.

The inquest was told that Limerick had burgled the house at least twice before.

On the night in question he was allegedly heard by a neighbour pleading not to be "bashed".

Limerick was reportedly taken to Noble's Nob, a disused mine near the town, around 6 October.

He was reportedly seen there alive but disorientated. He decomposed body was found about three weeks later.

Murdoch was questioned, but not charged. He left town soon after the body was discovered and there is now a territory wide search for him as a potentially crucial inquest witness.

It seems the mystery of Keith Murdoch continues.

Keith Murdoch was a man of principles and I know he would never have killed any man. Defended himself, yes. Read what a women journalist wrote about him some years later and was so impressed she wrote a play about him.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

War ! What Is It Good For ??? Absolutely Nothing !!!

In a 41 year Red Cross career I have been involved in many wars and internal conflicts and have seen so much senseless killing and maiming. I feel this video is a modern take on the stupidity of it all..

Friday, 16 November 2012

Resilience: clap trap and jargon

The largest all girl's school at Point Pedro in Jaffna

I am rarely short of words but after spending a full day in Point Pedro Jaffna with Red Cross volunteers and visiting schools and talking to teachers, pupils and the Chairman of the Jaffna Branch of SLRCS, I am baffled, and feel like throwing words such as resilience, risk reduction, beneficiary communication, self sustaining communities and social inclusion, out the window. Like a spider spinning, we entangle ourselves in an academic web where jargon flows as freely as beer at happy hour, but how many understand how to apply this claptrap? 

Having spent at least 3 weeks at community level in the last two months I find something academic, and false, about it all. Today I tweeted with dear Dr. Devindra, ex PMI and IFRC, a lady I admire immeasurably.

I told her I had spent a day with people who have been battered & brutalized  by 30 years of war, bruised by tsunami and they are still smiling. She replied saying she knew what I was talking about. Vulnerable people don't need our patronizing jargon and auditor-type checking. They need to be treated as human beings and make their own decisions.

At the largest girls school in Point Pedro, with about 1500 pupils, where we have installed a new toilet block with hand basins, Rebecca Kabura from Kenya runs a Red Cross hygiene promotion programme in this school and 40 others, I sat next to the Principal of the school during a ceremony. Seeing so many bicycles in the bike shed, I asked her “ How many pupils bike to school?” Over 50%, but they are the lucky ones who can afford a bike.” On pressing her a little more, she said “ I cycle to school too in my sari.” What a role model.

Later she produced a photo album of the incredible damage done to the school by the tsunami, and spoke of the number  of pupils killed, and then  told me a remarkable story of restriction and humiliation as an outspoken Principal, during her 18 year tenure. Her humility was overpowering, and I thought in would be an insult to talk about resilience with her or her students. Thank God Red Cross Red Crescent has volunteers from most communities in Sri Lanka who represent and shape their destiny.

We inaugurated large toilet blocks and wash basins in 7 schools at Point Pedro, Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Here the Chairman of the Jaffna Branch of Sri Lanka Red Cross right, with Principal and school committee chairwoman at  Thambasiddy school outside the new toilet block. The supply of toilets and wash basins in approx 40 schools is part of a wider Red Cross hygiene promotion pr
ogramme which runs slightly ahead of a new water supply system in Point Pedro, bringing clean water to 70,000 people. The water supply is a joint IFRC ADB co-financing project implemented by the Sri Lanka Water Board. Partnership such as this one with communities is the way to go as you get buy in and support from all aspects of the community.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Children's Day in India Today

Today is Children’s Day in India.  
We all are aware of the amazing grace children have. They are blessed with unconditional grace  to laugh open-heartedly, cry and scream with a passion, run fearlessly, pray with sincerity and love with a pure heart. Children have hearts that speak the truth and minds that follow their heart. They are already born with a mind to think which some people fail to understand. As Khaled Hosseini said, “Children aren’t colouring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors”.  As adults, our responsibility is to teach them to think, to question and not to say to people who hurt them. Sometimes, we overwhelm our children with excess love that we hold them back from reality.

Perhaps the most moving moment for me in many years living and working in India, was sitting on a platform in Vijawada, one sunny afternoon. There was a poor man, a day labourer by his dress, in his early 30s. He was sitting there with his 3 years old daughter, clad in a ragged blue dress. She had large, beautiful dark eyes. She cuddled up to her Father. An ice cream vendor walked by, and for a fleeting micro second, she looked at her father, suggesting he buy. one, but knowing that her father was poor, she looked away with embarrassment, and shut the thought out of her head. A few minutes later, the ice cream vendor returned down our end of the platform. And her father spoke a few words in Telugu to the vendor, he pulled some coins from the folds of his lunghi, and brought his daughter an ice cream, a treat he could ill-afford. Their eyes locked for some seconds and the radiant smile and her glinting eyes, told her Father of her deep love and appreciation for him. They cuddled together as she ate her ice cream. 

If someone asks me " Have I seen true love, I say "I saw it on a railway platform in India, between a poor father and daughter."

I was reminded of this through Denis McClean who directed me to a blog site:

Friday, 9 November 2012

Waging Peace

NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA  Waikato Times New Zealand
An aerial view of a former battle front in the northeast of Sri Lanka from the helicopter carrying the then UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon during his visit in April 2009.

An aerial view of a former battle front in the northeast of Sri Lanka from the helicopter carrying
 the then UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon during his visit in April 2009
PUSHED OUT: People flee an area held by the Tamil Tigers in northeastern Sri Lanka in 2009.
PUSHED OUT: People flee an area held by the Tamil Tigers in northeastern Sri Lanka in 2009.
Viduranga Aruna Abeygoonesekera, New Zealand’s honorary consul to Sri Lanka.
Maarten Holl/Fairfax
Viduranga Aruna Abeygoonesekera, New Zealand’s honorary consul to Sri Lanka.
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies head of delegation Sri Lanka, Bob McKerrow.
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies head of delegation Sri Lanka, Bob McKerrow.

Having first reported from Sri Lanka in 2005, 
Nicola Brennan-Tupara recently revisited to 
see how it was recovering after years of civil 
war. In the last of her series of articles from
 the country, she examines whether peace can 
really last. 
Kiwi Bob McKerrow has spent his life working 
in countries either at war or recovering from war, 
but Sri Lanka holds a special place in his heart.
That is why soon after the civil war ended in 2009, 
he packed his bags, left Indonesia and headed
 back to the country he worked in after the 2004 
He wanted to take part in the rebuilding after almost 
30 years of war waged by the Liberation Tigers of 
Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which fought for an 
independent Tamil state in the north and east 
of the country.
As the International Federation of Red Cross and
Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) head of delegation 
Sri Lanka, McKerrow has seen first hand the 
changes that have occurred in Sri Lanka since
the final bomb was dropped.
"I've seen a lot of post-conflict reconstruction, but this
is the quickest I've seen." The Sri Lankan Government
 has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the
northern province.
It has built roads, hospitals and schools - infrastructure 
o help promote what it calls a "northern spring".
It's this, McKerrow says, that the Government is 
doing well. "Reconciliation is another matter, but
this country, in three years, isn't doing too badly."
The Sri Lankan Government has been strongly
criticised by international groups for its 
reconciliation progress.
A Crisis Group report early this year said the Sri 
Lankan military's domination of the reconstruction of 
the north was worsening tensions with the ethnic 
Tamil majority.
Despite the millions being spent, local people, many 
left destitute, have seen only slight improvements in 
their lives.
They say the military is increasing its economic role
 and establishing itself as a permanent occupying 
force, leaving many Tamils struggling.
Amnesty International says the Sri Lankan 
Government continues to stifle dissent through 
threats and harassment, and has failed to take 
steps to end enforced disappearances and 
extrajudicial executions.
It says there's a climate of fear and people 
hesitate to speak about abuses of power.
The IFRC is doing what it can by providing 
people with houses and training and 
McKerrow is confident peace can last.
"People generally tell you the threats are 
offshore now. The people I talk to as I travel 
round just want peace. I think that if they 
can get a house, water, sanitation and a 
livelihood and the kids are able to go to school unharmed, that's the most important things 
to them."

Those who could reignite the war are dead."[LTTE leader] Prabhakaran was one of those few people who could galvanise people, mainly through fear, but he's not going to come back to life and there's no-one else who could lead them on shore."All Those who could reignite the war are dead.

"[LTTE leader] Prabhakaran
was one of those few people
who could galvanise people,
mainly through fear, but he's
not going to come back to life
and there's no-one else who
could lead them on shore."
All Sri Lanka needs is a few more 
years of good governance and 
it will get there, McKerrow says. 
Others, such as Nadaraja "Suki"
Sukirtharaj, of the Jaffna Social
Action Centre, are not so sure.
The centre, based in the country's
northern-most city, Jaffna, works mainly with women and children, often in displaced communities,
to provide them with vocational training, housing and other assistance.
"[The government] talks about reconciliation, but what does it mean, really?" he says.
"Most people in the north and east have each been through some traumatic experience. They
have been victimised.
"Take myself: I've been three times displaced - lost all my belongings, lost friends right in front of
There is no proper assistance for people to deal with the trauma and the emotional scars that are
left, he says.
"There are NGOs [non-governmental organisations] here that have the capacity to do psychosocial
work, but the government is not allowing them to do that work. Is that the way to help a person?"
Mentally, people are lost.
"There are so many steps they need to take, but this is not happening."
Suki fears that without a proper package for reconciliation, the situation will remain tenuous.
"If the government is genuine, then peace will prevail.
"I'm very confident there won't be violence any more, but the people are not happy. This is a negative
Survivors Associated executive director Shanthi Arulumpalam also believes more needs to be
done to ensure lasting peace.
Her organisation works with torture survivors to provide psychosocial help.
The end of the war should have been a busy time for her organisation.
"But there's something called the PTF [Presidential Taskforce of Resettlement, Reconciliation
nd Security in the Northern Province].
"They sit there and say who can get in there [to help] and who can't and for a couple of years,
no-one could and that's why a lot of NGOs got chased out of the country."
Survivors Associated struck an agreement with the defence minister about two years ago to
provide psychosocial help, but Shanthi says the organisation could be doing so much more.
"Like I said, this PTF thing is crushing everyone. I've told [the government] that. These people
need help."
If things don't improve, she is unsure whether true reconciliation can occur.
"The problems started right at the beginning, because the Tamil people felt that they were
being discriminated against. We need to prove to them that there is no more discrimination,
 but we can't do that because this darned PTF thing keeps interfering and stopping people
rom going in.
"The people are thinking: ‘They don't want to help me because I'm Tamil'. So how can peace
come? So we have to eradicate that feeling that the Tamil people have that the government is
against it."
Special presidential adviser on rehabilitation and MP Rajiva Wijesinha says the country is
heading in the right direction.
"A lot of things a lot of people anticipated wouldn't get done have actually been accomplished -
uite successfully.
"There were suggestions that the government wouldn't want to resettle and rehabilitate quickly.
"I think we have done it more quickly than any other country has. Almost all the displaced have
been resettled and almost all the former combatants have been released."
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president's brother, recently said that Sri Lanka
was now "one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world", an accomplishment
worthy of study.
But Wijesinha says the Government suffers from a lack of communication with its citizens.
"It's a weakness which is endemic, but is not deliberate."
He says the reason the north isn't developing as fast as the east, which the Government
took control of in 2007, is because the north is more cut off and lost more services during
the war than the east.
"We haven't done enough consistently up there, but it's not deliberate."
He doesn't think violence will reignite in the north.
"People in the north and east felt that they had no recourse but to turn to arms. I don't think
that will be repeated because we now know what the penalty of neglecting people is.
So even if we don't provide it as well as we should, we will not ignore the problem."
But he doesn't think the Government should be providing houses for displaced people
returning home.
"People say, Can we get a house? I say: No. The Government is not here to give you houses,
it is here to give you the vehicle to live and employment so that you can start working. We
cannot continue with a culture of handouts."
Back in New Zealand, many Sri Lankans who fled here during the war think true peace can
only come when those who committed war crimes, particularly during the final months of t
he war, are held to account.
Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the north during the final battle, with allegations,
on both sides, of attacks on civilians, executions of combatants and prisoners, enforced
disappearances by the Sri Lankan military, and the LTTE using civilians as human shields.
In March, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution urging Sri Lanka to investigate
 these alleged abuses.
The Sri Lankan Government commissioned its own investigation into the war last year, with
its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), clearing the military of deliberately
attacking civilians.
But the UN said the LLRC did "not adequately address serious allegations of violations of
international law".
One former LTTE member living in Auckland is fighting hard to make sure those who allegedly
perpetrated such crimes are held to account - at an international court, he hopes.
"Tamil people need to see some justice, some sort of solution."
Horrible things happened during the war, but New Zealand's honorary consul to Sri Lanka,
Viduranga Aruna Abeygoonesekera, says it's time to move on.
"There are people on both sides of the extreme, unfortunately, for whom the war - and I
\hate to use the word - has been an industry. They have cashed in on this.
"It's like the end of World War II. Someone had to do it, rightly or wrongly.
"You can argue and litigate and relitigate what's happened, but the fact is there is peace
now. People need to get behind it because we don't want to go back to the old things again."
He is confident Sri Lanka is a stable country that New Zealand should look to establish
 further links with.
"I think the countries are very close, a lot closer than people know."
Information provided to the Times under the Official Information Act shows New Zealand
exports to Sri Lanka have increased from $164 million in 2002 to $356m in 2012.
Imports from Sri Lanka have doubled from $20m to $402m in the same period.
"It's been three years since the end of the war and I'm interested in promoting trade between
the countries."
Abeygoonesekera has set up a Sri Lanka Business Council to do just that.
"There're always things [New Zealanders] can do to get involved in the rebuilding process [in
Sri Lanka].
"I know we are not a big country here and we can only contribute so much, but it's important
for New Zealand to be seen as a country that's partnering Sri Lanka in the rebuilding process."
Since the end of the war, he has been inundated with inquiries from people who want to travel
jto Sri Lanka for work and leisure.
Abeygoonesekera is aware of the criticism of the military presence in the north still, but doesn't
see it as a long-term measure.
"I don't think it's anyone's intention to intimidate people in any way. I think, when [the Government
] eventually feels comfortable, it will scale things down as it has done in the rest of the country.
"There are spots where trouble might still break out, that's why it is doing it."
But those living in these areas see it differently.
"We're too tired to fight. We just want the military to leave and let us get on with our lives,"
a resident of the former LTTE stronghold, Kilinochchi, said.
"Even now, they continue to spy on us.
"If there's a gathering of people, they come to your home and question you later.
 Sometimes people just go missing."
So while the bombs have stopped falling and the guns stopped firing, it could be
before trust is re-established and true peace and reconciliation achieved.
The War
Lying off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka has been scarred by a long and bitter
civil war arising out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil
minority in the northeast.
Beginning in 1983, the LTTE waged intermittent insurgency attacks against the
government for 26 years in a fight for an independent state.
More than 70,000 people died.
Tension between the groups was sparked by the island's colonial past when the
ountry was called Ceylon. The majority Buddhist Sinhalese thought the British
favoured Hindu Tamils, so after independence from Britain in 1948, Singhala
nationalism grew. It caused further ethnic division and sparked the war.
While most of the fighting took place in the north, the LTTE often travelled to the
capital of Colombo to carry out suicide bombings.
After two decades of fighting and four failed tries at peace talks, a ceasefire
agreement was signed in 2002.
However, hostilities renewed in late 2005 and the conflict began to escalate.
The government launched a number of major military offensives against the LTTE
beginning in July 2006, driving them out of the eastern provinces.
They then moved their attentions to the north, and in January 2008 formally
announced their withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement.
In May 2009, the government proclaimed victory over the LTTE after killing its
leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and taking control of Mullaitivu.
- © Fairfax NZ News

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Coldest Journey

Sometimes I shake my head and say what is a sane or rational adventure and what is not ?

Then to note that my old friend Sir Ranulph Fiennes is soon to start what some call an attempt to overcome the great polar challenges, I really wonder who the hell would want to spend 6 months in a tracked motor vehicle in the dark. But then, I spent 13 months with 3 other people in Antarctica in 1970, so who am I to argue? So, I go with the media hype, " Today only one true challenge remains - to be the first to cross the Antarctic in winter."

Coincidentally, another old friend Will Steger, the first man to reach both North and South Poles using dog teams, was with me at Eureka weather station at 80 degrees north on Ellesmere Island Canada when we met Sir Ran in 1986 when we were on separate North Pole expeditions. We were an 8 person unsupported dog-sled expedition and Ran was man hauling with Robert Swann. Their expedition struck trouble and they never made and 6 of our 8 members made it to the North Pole.

So good on you Ran, good luck, and I hope we 'share spoons again.'  In 1986 when I was at the same table as Ran in the Arctic, we were short of spoons. So when I finished my meal, he looked at my spoon and said "finished?". I said yes and he picked up my dirty spoon and immediately started his meal.

For more than 100 years the world has witnessed a golden era in modern exploration, as
adventurers from across
the globe have battled against each other to overcome the great polar challenges. Today
only one true challenge remains - to be the first to cross the Antarctic in winter.
Ever since US Navy engineer Robert Peary allegedly reached the North Pole in 1909
and Roald Amundsen and his crew reached the South Pole in December 1911, there
have been numerous successful attempts to close out the remaining challenges.
Although a team of Norwegian explorers achieved the astonishing feat of crossing
the Arctic during winter in 2010, crossing the Antarctic in near permanent darkness
and in temperatures as low as -90C has by many experts been seen as one step
too far - until now.

The Coldest Journey on Earth

Setting off from Greenwich aboard the South African ice-breaker, SA Agulhas, Sir Ranulph
Fiennes will lead an experienced and dedicated team of six explorers in this record-breaking
attempt to do the unimaginable. There can be no mistake, attempting to cross the Antarctic in
winter carries very high risks and completing the challenge will require extraordinary endurance,
bravery and will power.
The ground-breaking venture is one of the largest non-governmental initiatives ever to
take place, and it is fitting therefore that it should get underway on the centenary year
of Captain Scott's death in the Antarctic. Achieving their goal will further cement Britain's
reputation as the world's leading nation of explorers and be a fitting conclusion to an
extraordinary period in human history.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has up until this expedition refused to grant
permission  to take on the challenge because it has always been deemed far too risky
and the chances of disaster too high. This decision was only overturned after it was shown
technological innovations could mitigate some of the major risks of the crossing.
Despite this change of heart, the risks remain high for the team; simply by inhaling air below
 -60Ccan cause irreparable damage to the lungs (the average winter temperature at the South
Pole is approximately -60C!) and exposure to the skin to such temperatures causes severe
frostbite in a matter of seconds. If anything should go seriously wrong, a search and rescue
missionwould be impossible since aircraft cannot fly in such cold conditions due to the
 threat of their fuel freezing. In the event of a major incident, the crew will have to sit out
the winter on the ice until summer when a rescue attempt can be made.
Novo stationThe selected crossing from the Russian base of Novolazarevskaya (right), via the South Pole, to Captain Scott's base at McMurdo Sound, will take six months - mostly in complete darkness - and span more than 2,000 miles. In total, the team will spend an estimated 273 days on the ice, and once under way, travel at an average of 35km per day, with every one day in three being allocated as reserve (for rest or bad weather).
Throughout the crossing a two-man ski unit will lead the party, dragging a pulk kitted out with a ground-penetrating radar. This radar will transmit real-time information about the terrain - and any crevasses - to a Mobile Vehicle Landtrain (MVL) following close behind, which will be
 made up of two modified Caterpillar D6N vehicles each towing a caboose and store and
fuel sleds. If crevasses are discovered they will be assessed as potential threats and if
they are deemed significant or too large to fill an alternative route will be taken.

D6N with teamThe team will eat and sleep
in one of the heated cabooses,
while the other will house the
 expedition's scientific
equipment and workshops.
Due to the bitter conditions
the team will be wearing
clothing that is vital to keep
them alive and make the
crossing possible.

During the traverse, Sir Ranulph and his team will receive regular communications
and support from the ship, managed by Anton Bowring, and from the Expedition
Office based in London and headed up by Tristam Kaye, which will provide
additional communications and a link to the outside world.

What Do They Hope to Achieve?

On 6th December, a team of explorers led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes will set off from London
on the world's first ever attempt to cross the Antarctic in winter.
The 2000-mile journey has for many years been considered too perilous to try and the group
 will have to overcome one of earth's most hostile environments if they are to succeed,
exposing themselves to temperatures dropping close to -90c and operating in near
permanent darkness.
A winter traverse of the Antarctic is widely regarded as the last true remaining polar
challenge and the expedition's success will reassert Britain's status as the world's
greatest nation of explorers.
A fund-raising initiative will run side-by-side with the expedition with the aim of raising
$10m for Seeing is Believing to help fight blindness around the world.
Having never been attempted, the expedition will also provide unique and invaluable
scientific research that will help climatologists, as well as forming the basis for an
education programme that will reach up to 100,000 schools across the Commonwealth.

Good luck guys from someone who knows the long Antarctic winter. Bob McKerrow

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Demobilizing Child Soldiers - A Story of Change: Siddharth Chatterjee at...

I would like to share this talk by my friend and colleague, Siddharth Chatterjee on demobilizing child soldiers.

Siddharth Chatterjee works for the IFRC as its Chief Diplomat and Head of Strategic Partnerships and International Relations at its HQ in Geneva, Switzerland. Before he worked for the UN and its agencies (i.e. UNICEF) for nearly 14 years. Siddharth thinks that the use of children as combatants in conflicts is amongst the most egregious violations of human and child rights and is a practice that continues unabated. Through his talk, Siddharth Chatterjee will explain how humanitarian diplomacy has made possible to demobilize children during an armed conflict -- rather than waiting for it to end and loss of a generation of children to war. 

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Climate change wreaks havoc on communities and resources - IFRC

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched a one million Swiss Franc appeal to help the Sri Lanka Red Cross support 20,000 vulnerable families (or approximately 125,000 people).
“Such adverse weather is typical of the expected effects of climate change; people are now even more vulnerable”, said Bob McKerrow, the IFRC’s head of delegation in Sri Lanka. “These rains won’t make a big difference to farmers and rural communities who have suffered from the drought. Their water sources are contaminated, they have the lost majority of their crops and seeds and their livelihoods are at risk. It will require a substantial amount of rain for ground water levels to rise and fill water reservoirs.”

Have a look at the IFRC website

Climate change wreaks havoc on communities and resources - IFRC

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Before the days of Zero Tolerance.

I will soon board a plane to Colombo and will be back back with the family tonight. What pure joy it was to meet old friends such as Bjorn Eder, Alan Bradbury, Chris Jackson, Phillip Charlesworth, Joanna McLean, Bhupiner Tomar, Andy McElroy, Umadevi, Nigel Ede, Michael Annear, Karin Bjornstaad, Victoria Bannon, Razmi Farook, Valerie Hunnam, Javier Barrera, Al Panico, Patrick Fuller, Lorraine Mangwiro, Anne le Clerc, Azmat Ulla, Suzana Cunningham,  and new colleagues like John and Nuran. See the video of our meeting below.

The work of a Head of delegation is not easy and as the world becomes more complex, the demands on us grow like wild flowers over rocks in the fields.. These meetings are a time for learning, reinforcing, but more importantly, being rejuvenated by people, many of who we have worked with in front line situations. Joanna and I go back to 1979 when she was working in the NZ Red Cross youth department.

We have lost colleagues who died on the job: such as my close friend who I climbed with in Peru and was killed in Vietnam in 1975, Sheryl Thayer, (Chechnya 96) Jock Sutherland (Pakistan 1993), Bo Kywe Pakistan 1994)  Reto Neuenschwander, (Congo 1996.)  and more recently, Khalil Dale.

The loss of Alistair Henley was a huge blow for Deborah and boys, and to all of us who are friends and colleagues, our thoughts and prayers frequently go out to you Deborah and family..

After a few glasses of wine as I get a little emotional at these meetings,  I  think who influenced me most in my Red Cross career, and there is only one person who stands head and shoulders above the rest, Henrik Beer, secretary General of the IFRC, or then known as the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

My fondest memories of Henrik was on a snowy Geneva winter day Dec 1978 or Jan 1979 when I was a young desk officer at the secretariat. I was duty officer and needed to check the telex for urgent messages. As the snow was quite thick, I didn't want to get stranded in my car, so I skied  with my 20 month old daughter, warmly wrapped, on my back, the 3 km to the office. On arrival I went up to the telex room to find Henrik Beer watching the results of the first run of a Men's Slalom event coming through on the AFP teleprinter. Of course he was following the progress of fellow Swede Ingamar Stenmark. He was delighted to see me and made a big fuss over Anita. After the results came through and I had done my duty officer work, he invited me to his office and we had a long talk and he produced a bottle of schnapps.

Anita was crawling and walking around the office of this famous man and Henrik was so warm and engaging with her. He asked me how old I was and I said, " 31 years. " You have a bright future, and remember one thing. Red Cross is not political but to survive and flourish in this organisation, you must understand politics."

Skiing home that late afternoon, glowing inside from the schnapps  I felt I had really sat at the foot of the Guru. They were the days before "Zero Tolerance" and skiing on a snowy road was permitted.

In late 1981, just before Henrik Beer retired, I hosted him on his last field visit. I was then working in Southern India where the League of Red Cross Societies were running a massive construction project, that of building 233 cyclone shelters along the 2000 km of cyclone prone coastine in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. It was with a great sense of pride that I escorted Henrik on his last visit. As we travelled together from Madras, he asked me, "How is Anita." He had remembered her name from that snowy Geneva day when she played in his office. That was typical of Henrik Beer, he loved people and his work.

Another memory or more precisely, was a souvenir that I had for more than 20 years. In the late 1970's, the League sold off a lot of old furniture replacing it with modern stuff. I bought Henrik's coffee table and used to think of all the world's statesmen and women that had discussed the leading global humanitarian issues of the day. People like Dag Hammarskjold, U Thant, Indira Gandhi, Agha Khan had sipped tea, coffee and water from that table.

I keep a blog on Henrik Beer which contains a lot of lost red Cross history on environment etc: